Tag Archives: Civil Rights

The Habits of Societies: The Power of Habit, Part 3a

In Part 1a, we had an introduction Duhigg’s book on habits. In Part 1b, we looked at some of the highlights and the key points from the first section (on individuals) of the book. In yesterday’s post, we looked some of the stories that Duhigg shared in the second section about Michael Phelps, Alcoa, Starbucks, and the Rhode Island Hospital.  In today’s post, we’ll look at the last section of the book on societies.

Because of my sense that I’m meant to be a leader of a very large organization, I was particularly excited to get to the section on societies. It certainly did not disappoint. There were only two chapters in this section. The first chapter talked about movements: the civil rights movement in the 1960s and Rick Warren. With regard to the civil rights movement, Duhigg tells the story of how we came to know Rosa Parks. I was shocked to learn that Parks wasn’t the only (nor was she the first!) black person to take a stand (metaphorically) against the injustice in the South. In fact, there had been others like her who tried to remain in their seats on the bus, but no movements formed after their decision to remain steadfast.

Part of the reason that Parks created such a stir was because of how connected she was to her community. When people learned that Parks had been arrested, people wanted to help. Simply wanting to help wasn’t enough. As we learn, all of this willingness to help had to be funneled into a new activity: civil disobedience. There’s a particular powerful passage that I want to share. In my reading of the passage, it makes me think that this was one of the important turning points of civil rights movement:

As the bus boycott expanded from a few days into a week, and then a month, and then two months, the commitment of the Montgomery’s black community began to wane.

The police commissioner, citing an ordinance that required taxicabs to charge a minimum fare, threatened to arrest cabbies who drove blacks to work at a discount. The boycott’s leaders responded by signing up two hundred volunteers to participate in a carpool. Police started issuing tickets and harassing people at carpool meeting spots. Drivers began dropping out. “It became more and more difficult to catch a ride,” King later wrote. “Complaints began to rise. From early morning to late at night my telephone rang and my doorbell was seldom silent. I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue the struggle.”

One night, while King was preaching at his church, an usher ran up with an urgent message. A bomb had exploded at King’s house while his wife and infant daughter were inside. King rushed home and was greeted by a crowd of several hundred blacks as well as the mayor and the chief of police. His family had not been injured, but the front windows of his home were shattered and there was a crater in his porch. If anyone had been in the front rooms of the house when the bomb went off, they could have been killed.

As King surveyed the damage, more and more blacks arrived. Policemen started telling the crowds to disperse. Someone shoved a cop. A bottle flew through the air. One of the policemen swung a baton. The police chief, who months earlier had publicly declared his support for the racist White Citizen’s Council, pulled King aside and asked him to do something — anything — to stop a riot from breaking out.

King walked to his porch.

“Don’t do anything panicky,” he shouted to the crowd. “Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

The crowd grew still.

“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” King said. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.'”

“We must meet hate with love,” King [said].


The parts about Rick Warren were equally powerful, but when contrasted with the life/death matters of the civil rights movement, it’s hard to see it in the same light.

Because I’ve shared an excerpt from this book about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, I thought it best to talk about the last chapter of the section in a different post. Look for it tomorrow.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Almost Didn’t Give the “I Have A Dream” Speech

A few weeks ago, I happened to be visiting the Lincoln Memorialagain. While I still live in DC, it seems prudent to take advantage of this opportunity that many Americans (and non-Americans!) only get when they’re on vacation. Anyway, while at the Memorial, I happened to stop and listen to a tour guide who was talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s famous speech. Not ironically, he was talking about it because he was standing on (or thereabouts) the same spot where MLK delivered the speech in the 60s. The spot (just in front of) the Lincoln Memorial is the highest one is allowed to give a speech from.

Anyway, that’s a bit tangential to the point of this post, so let’s get to it. As the tour guide was speaking, he was explaining how MLK came to be on those steps on that fateful day in August of 1963. The speech was one of nine keynote addresses (Note: I’ve been looking for this statistic somewhere online and haven’t found it, so I could be misremembering exactly what the tour guide said). MLK didn’t sit down to write the speech until the night before the address, as he’d been pretty busy with the events of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The night before, MLK along with some of his most trusted advisors (Clarence Jones being one of them), sat down to write the draft. When they were finished, MLK went back to his room with the speech. The next day, while giving the speech, Jones noted that MLK had done quite a bit of deviation from the draft they’d written the night before.

The most remembered part of the speech, “I Have A Dream…” was not part of the original draft. Surprised? I certainly was when I heard the guide say this. Would you also be surprised to know that MLK first gave the speech when he was a teenager? He first delivered the speech in church when he was a teenager. It had been something that he’d worked on and given before, but as I said, it wasn’t part of the original text he was to deliver on August 28, 1963. So, then, how did he come to say those famous words?

Mahalia Jackson.

She was MLK’s favorite gospel singers and one of the few women near the podium on that day in August. Here’s a short clip of Clarence Jones speaking with Tavis Smiley about the book he published in 2011 called: Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation. In the clip, Clarence Jones explains that it was Mahalia who shouted out to MLK, “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” (Note: WordPress won’t let me embed the video from PBS, but you can watch it here. Jones talks about Mahalia very early on in the interview.)

Incredible, eh? Can you imagine how different the USA world would be if MLK hadn’t given that speech that day? Can you imagine how different it’d be if Mahalia hadn’t shouted to MLK to tell ’em about the dream?

And if you’re interested, the text of the speech.

The Lincoln Memorial and Civil Rights

This past weekend, I had the quintessential DC experience. Even though I’ve lived in Metro DC for over a year now, I hadn’t been to many of the monuments/memorials. On Saturday, I went to just about all of them. As a side note, I never realized just how big they were. There was one monument in particular that made me think — the Lincoln Memorial.

On my way to the bathroom (at the Lincoln Memorial), I noticed a tiny museum of sorts that had a number of Lincoln’s quotes on the wall. There was also a history channel (I think?) documentary-like movie playing in one corner of the museum. In the place where the video was playing, there were more things on the wall. One of the things on the wall that caught my eye was of someone holding a sign opposing civil rights. To me, it seemed an odd thing to find in a museum about the Lincoln Memorial. It also reminded that there was opposition to civil rights.

After I left the museum and continued my exploration of the other Memorials/Monuments, it made me think: what’s “today’s” version of what happened then? Is it marriage equality? Is it something else? More than that, what will be the next generation’s version of that? Or the generation after that? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with before: what are we doing today that will be thought of as ludicrous by the generations that follow.


I’m really glad I had the chance to check out the Lincoln Memorial this weekend because I’m planning on watching Lincoln tomorrow afternoon. My plan on watching it in the afternoon is that I’ll be more “alert” for what I’ve read is one of the best movies of the year. I’m certainly excited for it because I’ve wanted to read Team of Rivals for some time. In fact, when I borrowed a bunch of books a few months ago, I had Team of Rivals on my list!

News Today — Gone Tomorrow

With the , it has made me stop and think about what’s going on in the world today. I’m not well steeped in history nor am I particularly interested in knowing who did what to whom and when. However, I do find it interesting to reflect back on some of the more important events in history. The is a rather important part of US history and human history. I would also say that the was pretty important, too.

My interest lies in how these events are viewed well after the fact. People still learn about the civil rights movement in school and they also still learn about the JFK assassination, I’m sure. I don’t know, however, if they learn about some of the other perspectives of these major events. Not that I’m advocating one side over the other, but I think it’d be interesting to be teaching children not just about the civil rights movement, but about those who opposed it and more importantly, why they opposed it. I think it is important to learn about the differences of opinion.

How come? Simply because it seems to me that many of the issues that are present in the world today are not brand new issues. I won’t begin to pretend that I completely understand what is going on in Egypt and anyone who tells you they do is probably lying, but it seems that there’s this age-old archetype playing out where one side is not playing fairly with the other side where the sides are reflected in pro-Mubarak and pro-reformers.

It doesn’t seem like we’ve come to understand that living on this planet needn’t be a competition for the natural resources. My point is that this is not a new issue. This is something that our ancestors have been playing out for centuries through wars, invasions, and raids. I am not condemning war nor am I condoning it — merely taking a closer look at some of the reasons it seems to happen.

With the speed of our evolving world increasing at an alarming rate, it’s not clear to me just how this situation in Egypt will play out and more importantly — how it will affect other countries. Some would say that what is happening in Egypt is a result of . I’m more inclined to see happenings in the world as correlational rather than cause-and-effect. Who knows: maybe the movement in Tunisia spawned the movement in Egypt. I wonder, though, what will be spawned as a result of the movement in Egypt. Will it be more sparring and jockeying for position? Will a calmness overlay? Something tells me that situations like these usually get worse before they get better.